Date Night (2010) or Not to Date Night

Date Night (2010) is an American action-comedy film written by Josh Klausner (The Fourth Floor, Shrek 3) and directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Doze, Night at the Museum) and exploits the wild popularity of SNL writer, comedian, and actress Tina Fey and funnyman du jour Steve Carell.  Is it funny? I laughed here and there.  Was it successful?  It earned over $150 million in collective box office receipts.  How was it received, should we expect Date Night part deux in the not so distant future?  Reviews were mostly positive from critics near and far, but one can’t help but secretly wonder why a film reported to cost $55 million about the wild shenanigans of a middle-aged couple seeking solace from a mundane ‘married with children’ lifestyle costs so much?

If Date Night succeeds at all it is its quick elevator pitch.  “A middle aged couple stuck in the hum-drum of their work-life-careers needs a respite from the kids, picks a fancy restaurant where not even the rich get a spot and after pretending to be someone else, get a table and become the targets of not-so nice arch criminals.”  And then what happens?  Sadly, a far-fetched and silly road trip through Manhattan with plot holes the size of man-hole covers and notable bit-parts populated with unexpected big name actors who sadly only show up long enough to blather and leave.  What we realize, albeit too late, is that concept films can only get you so far before a weak script begins to peak out all over.  Concept makes music videos stand out in a sea of music videos.  Concept gets up in the morning and puts his or her pants on one leg at a time.  Concept gives us insulted cavemen and a spinning, drumming bunny hitting a drum for the holidays.  But concept films are much more difficult to pull off because once the newness and inventive concept wears away we’re left with characters and story.  Weak characters and a flabby story leave us in the wasteland of the theater wondering if it’s too late to get the price of our movie ticket back or if the concession stand will give you a refund on the rest of your popcorn.  In the case of Date Night, what ultimately begins as a better than average cocktail napkin movie idea loses something during the actual movie part of the concept – the part where people are supposed to talk and move around and do stuff.  It is apparent we’ve entered the dangerous waters of the concept film when the dinghy we’re in, the shabby boat on loan in the middle of the ocean begins to take on water while the sun is going down and there’s only one oar and shore is nowhere to be found.

The film manages to float somewhere between moderately successful with a 67% score at Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 56 out of a 100 at Metacritic.  Oddly, Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars and two thumbs up, the same rating he gave films like Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans (inexcusably bad), The Road (No yellow brick road here, Chartreuse and mauve maybe), Crazy Horse (O.K. everyone is right once in a while), and Inception (see my extended notes here, please).  I’d suggest the next time you consider a reviewer/critic of your liking take a moment to see what he/she is saying about other films.  It might surprise you.  Many will concede Mr. Ebert’s reviews are frequently laden with sentimentality these days and over generalizations in a desperate effort to retain his connection with the ever-changing and younger movie going public; I remain a long time supporter and reader of my Ebert’s reviews, btw, but am often befuddled at his rapid fire dedication to tweeting at all hours of the day and night that strike an alarming resemblance to nothing related to movies or movie reviews.  Others, like Jim Vejvoda at IGN ride the fence, uncertain or unwilling whether to pat the film on the pack for inventiveness while simultaneously dispatching it for failed opportunities, or take a stand and in the end, falling down very nearly in the middle write further, “the film still manages to be a lot of fun.”  Which is it, you might ask? Some are clearly smitten with every-girl-Jane Tina Fey who remains a popular personality both in front of the camera and off, a comedic writer of significance, but her attributes are unable to penetrate, let alone maintain the preposterousness of this film.  Steve Carrell faired better in other films and on television, here he struggles to fit his comedic energy into the story in any meaningful way.  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone would have you believe the painfully redundant and clichéd-drenched scenarios of ordinary folk are strong points in a film that is less about the reinvention of everyday romantic comedy as a reflection of the significance of hit television series like 30 Rock or The Office, but don’t be fooled.  You’ll find Mr. Traver’s one line quips of “best movie of the year” on so many films you can’t help but imagine what films he doesn’t purport to be the best of the best.

It’s immeasurably difficult to translate humor that fills the tiny sets in our living rooms to the big screen.  In the end we’re exhausted for having endured the journey and by the end when normalcy looms for Phil and Claire Foster who are obviously changed by their experience we realize slowly, painfully so, we do not share such transcendence.  Katey Rich at Cinema Blend adds in her review, “It’s not the movie it could have been but at its best moments, it’ll do.”  What happened to expectations and a general interest in a bit more than mediocre?  I can’t help but think of audiences filing in and out of theaters with the same bland expression on their face, a giggle here and there but then right back to the routine they left behind two hours prior and not even afforded enough of an escape to last long enough to get them out of the parking garage.  Movies hardly linger any more.  Movies meander and disappoint yet we’re eager to pay the price of admission.

Date Night will appeal to audiences who like the idea of Tina Fey and Steve Carrell sharing screen time together in a silly, action-comedy film that contains guest appearances by a handful of very familiar faces in sketchy, walk-on parts surrounded by the concept of a ‘date night that goes terribly wrong’ and the ensuing shenanigans that follow.  Date Night is not completely devoid of humor and plausibility, there are fun situations and knowing some of the comedic ad-lib scenes between the stars made it into the final film is a welcome bonus.  If you’re expecting a clever, memorable romantic comedy there are dozens in the past ten years alone that surpass this film in nearly every way.  Maybe you’ll get lucky and catch the movie for free at a friend’s house or your neighborhood rental place will throw in a copy with your next order.  Regardless, don’t worry if you miss this one.  Watch the trailer and consider the time you saved as an opportunity to do something much more rewarding.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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8 Responses to Date Night (2010) or Not to Date Night

  1. Rodney says:

    Tina Fey doesn’t get much exposure here in Australia, but 30 Rock gets a run late at night on one of the local free-to-air channels. Steve Carell might have been a bigger draw, but the way they promoted this film just…. wasn’t funny! At least, not to Aussie audiences. I took one look at the trailer and thought exactly as you described this film. A little bit of blah, a little bit of wahh, and not much else. I enjoyed Carell in 40 Year Old Virgin, but everything else he’s done seems a little like he’s trying too hard (did you see him in Evan Almighty? I mean, c’mon!!!) to produce a career that wavers between bit-roles in better films or average leading roles.
    Perhaps the best film ol’ Steve’s been in recently was Get Smart, where he was ably assisted by The Rock and that dude from Little Miss Sunshine who played The Chief.
    Will still give it a watch because I think my wife saw a trailer and thought it looked good (er, yeah, there’s no explaining THAT!) but I’m not gonna expect much.

    • rorydean says:

      I’m not surprised Tina Fey doesn’t get much exposure in your neck of the woods. I think she is clearly an American phenomenon and her status was raised considerably with her impersonation of Sarah Palin. I think she is a tremendously talented writer and at times funny on-screen, but her performance in this film is dismal. I actually haven’t followed Carrell’s career all that much and can’t recall Get Smart (I’m sure I saw it but at the same time it faded, quickly). Let me know what you decide.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Fey and Carrell elevate this film to actually being something funnier than I expected. There were certain scenes, that I thought weren’t as funny, but those were soon out-matched by the other hilarious scenes that came. I thought this was one of the funniest films of the year, and I know I’m basically the only one on that verdict.

    • rorydean says:

      Well, I wish I had enjoyed it more. I think this is a case where the trailer is not the film you ultimately end up watching (I thought the trailer looked promising). Probably the worst feeling I had was the clumsy comedic timing between Fey and Carrell which very often seemed stiff and random. I think you’re probably right about this film being one of the funniest of the year – but we are entitled to our little pleasures. I for one find Superbad an incredibly funny movie but many others thought it was too vulgar, toilet-humor, and juvenile. Cheers->

  3. Castor says:

    I enjoyed Date Night. It doesn’t aspire to be anything particularly memorable but it’s reasonably amusing enough. Carell and Fey share great chemistry together although you can definitely feel they were handcuffed by the uncreative screenplay.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Castor – thanks for visiting! Reminds me I really need to spend some quality time over at anomalousmaterial.com! I’ll probably have to revisit Date Night again, some time down the road after the bad taste from the first ‘bite’ subsides and I can feel my teeth again. No seriously though, I’ve had adverse reactions to films that were brought to my attention much later and after a return visit found more to like, less to criticize – though in this case, I don’t know. I didn’t feel their chemistry (as I noted below to Dan) but can’t agree more with your line “they were handcuffed by the uncreative screenplay”. Perfect summation. cheers->

  4. Pingback: Miss Nobody (2010) | Above the Line

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